I snapped this photo last week and couldn’t help smile at the ease with which these horses chose to pass a lovely afternoon in the sun. There was no angst about what they should be doing instead. No contemplation of napping only after all their “work” was done. The decision to just lay down and soak up the sun was an in-the-moment type of decision.
After I took the picture I thought I’d write a post about taking the time to relax. But even as the thought crossed my mind, it felt trite. Does the word really need one more blog post encouraging us to seize the moment and rest? To take time to lie in the sun every once in awhile.
As it turns out, yes. But this post unfolded, like so many other things, in a fairly circuitous way. Right after I rejected my original post idea, I plunged into complete writer’s block. I obsessed all weekend about finding the perfect thing to write about and grew increasingly grouchy and frustrated.
As luck would have it, my pre-teen daughter gave me just the fuel I needed to blow the cobwebs from my brain. She’s been having some time management issues getting out the door in the mornings; I don’t think she’s made the bus once this month. And even with the extra half an hour of time she gets when I drive her in, it feels as though we leave the house with me yelling and her in tears (or sometimes to be honest, her yelling and me almost in tears) every day. My son is thoroughly over the whole thing and takes it upon himself to be on the bus just to avoid all this hoopla.
Today, as she stomped out of her bedroom in tears because she couldn’t find the pair of pants she wanted, I felt a searing burn of anger and frustration make its way through my chest. I was SO done with this. Getting ready to unleash a stern lecture detailing all the shortcomings of her morning routine, that picture of the horses flashed into my mind. Be in the moment I thought. Stay here right now. I took a deep breath (ok, several deep breaths because staying in the moment required that I drop any pretense of getting to school on time). As I brought myself back into the present, I looked at her and realized that her time management issues were not really her fault. I looked at her and saw a little girl who is a lot like her mom. We do lots of things really well, but getting ourselves anywhere on time is not one of them. I realized in that moment that I was chastising her for behavior that I wasn’t modeling. And what’s more, that what she really needed most was a little kindness.
I smiled at her, looked her directly in the eyes, and said: “How can I help?” She immediately calmed down and looked at me with total relief. As we drove into school we had an amazing conversation about what would make the mornings better. I was candid about my own struggles in this area. We decided that we were going to start thinking about the mornings as an experiment. And that we would gather some data about what works and what doesn’t work. We agreed that there was no getting it wrong, but that we would simply tweak things until we got it right.
I got home from school and looked over my list for the day. I felt a surge of anxiety wash over me as I realized that I was behind already. But then again, I thought of the horses, took a deep breath and gentled myself. I realized that the lesson those snoozing horses had imparted to me last week wasn’t simply to relax and take some down time. It was actually far more profound than that. What they offered me was insight into the present. Taking a nap seemed good. In the moment. Laying in the sun felt right. In the moment. And when we can stay in the moment, we have something to offer ourselves and everyone around us: kindness.
I had to pause my own mental train in order to be present for my daughter; only then was I able to be kind. Without that pause, that presence, everything was about me: how her lateness was affecting my day, how her mood was impacting my own mood, how unfair it was that my husband wasn’t here to deal with this. Without the present, the ego runs amok.
It’s my deep belief that almost all human beings want to be kind. But when we can’t stay present, when our minds are a million miles ahead of where are right now, when the to-do list won’t turn off, when we feel snappy with others, we can’t possibly be kind. Not to ourselves and not to others. True kindness is an internal job. It starts and ends with each of us, and it demands that we slow ourselves way down, and be in the moment. Letting go of the agendas, the to-do lists, the internal obligations, and instead stretching out in the sun for a while.
This article was previously published at www.thecircleupexperience.com on December 6, 2015.
Susan McCusker and Beth Killough are the co-founders of The Circle Up Experience. They work with horses to help humans reclaim personal leadership and transform their own herds. You can read more about their work here, or find them on Facebook.